Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Edited by Shlomo Katz
Volume XIII, No. 44
9 Elul 5759
August 21, 1999
Orach Chaim 154:8-10
Daf Yomi: Ta’anit 14
Yerushalmi Yevamot 19
The midrash on this parashah (Devarim Rabbah 6:3) states that the verse (Mishlei 1:9), “For they are a beautiful accompaniment (‘liviat chen’),” refers to the many mitzvot of the Torah, and especially to those that are found in this parashah. The midrash elaborates:
“Wherever you go, the mitzvot accompany you. If you build a house, build a fence around the roof (Devarim 22:8). When you install a door, put up a mezuzah (Devarim 6:8). When you put on new clothes, make sure they have no sha’atnez/prohibited mixture of wool and linen (Devarim 22:11). When you cut your hair, do not cut the pe’ot/corners (Vayikra 19:27). If you have a field and you wish to plow it, make sure that your team does not have an ox and donkey together (Devarim 22:10). When you sow, do not plant kilayim/forbidden mixtures (Devarim 22:9). When you harvest your fields, make sure to leave gifts for the poor (Devarim 24:19-21). Even if you are doing nothing, but merely walking down the road, the mitzvot accompany you, as it is written (Devarim 22:6), ‘If you will chance upon a bird’s nest . . . ‘”
R’ Gedalya Schorr z”l writes that this midrash is explaining the purpose of mitzvot. When a host accompanies a guest down the road, he shows that he feels a continuing relationship with the guest, even if the host and the guest must now be separated for a time. Similarly, the mitzvot that Hashem gave us are an “accompaniment” for us. Although in this world we are relatively distant from Hashem, the mitzvot demonstrate our continuing relationship with Him. When we go about our business in this world, there is a natural tendency to become more distant from G- d. Therefore, we are surrounded by mitzvot which draw us back to Hashem.
This can be understood on a deeper level, as well. We are used to thinking, for example, that because we have houses, G-d gave us the mitzvah of mezuzah to sanctify the house. In fact, the cause-and-effect relationship is the reverse. G-d created the concept of housing in order to give us the mitzvot associated with houses. In everything we do, we can find, if we look below the surface, a hidden spiritual message which can aid us in our service of Hashem. This is alluded to in the verse quoted above, “For they are a beautiful accompaniment (‘liviat chen’).” The word “chen” is the abbreviation of “chochmah nistarah”/”hidden wisdom,” for every action that we take has hidden mitzvot accompanying it.
Elul, concludes R’ Schorr, is a particularly appropriate time to look for the hidden wisdom in creation, for creation began in Elul. (The sixth day of creation was Rosh Hashanah.) In this way, all of our actions in the coming year can achieve their deeper religious significance. (Ohr Gedalyahu: Elul, section 3)
R’ Chaim ben Attar z”l (died 1743) asks: Why does the Torah make this concession; would it not be more appropriate that the warriors subdue their inclinations? [One can also ask: We are taught that only perfect tzaddikim went to war on behalf of Bnei Yisrael (see Rashi to Devarim 20:8 and see below). Even the sin of talking during davening was sufficient to disqualify a Jew from the army. Can the Torah really fear that these perfect tzaddikim may be tempted by the beauty of a foreign woman?]
R’ ben Attar explains: Throughout history there have been countless important personalities who were the descendants of, or were themselves, converts to Judaism. Notable among these were Ruth the Moabite, Shemayah and Avtalyon (the teachers of Hillel), and Onkelos (translator of the Torah into Aramaic). All of these converts had holy souls that somehow had to be awakened.
It is an axiom that when one does a mitzvah, he becomes surrounded by the Divine Presence. Not only were Bnei Yisrael’s warriors perfectly righteous to begin with, their involvement in a mitzvah [such as capturing Eretz Yisrael or defending the Jewish people from harm] brought them additional closeness to Hashem, which removed from them any improper inclinations that they otherwise might have experienced. These tzaddikim surely did not notice the physical beauty of the foreign women; rather Hashem opened their eyes and enabled them to see the holy souls that lay within some of these people. It then became these warriors’ role to bring out the inner beauty of those souls. (Or HaChaim)
Regarding the righteousness of the Jewish army of old, it is told that a play was once staged in the town of Brisk that attempted to mock the religious by reenacting a military mobilization. One actor dressed as a kohen and called out: “Anyone who has built a house in the past year, go home. Anyone who has planted a vineyard in the past year go home. Anyone who is lacking in fear of Heaven, go home.” (See Devarim ch.20)
At the end of this winnowing process, only the actors portraying the Vilna Gaon and the author of the Sha’agas Aryeh remained. The rabbi of Brisk, R’ Chaim Soloveitchik z”l (1853- 1918) was told of this mockery and was asked to put a stop to it.
R’ Soloveitchik responded: “But this is exactly what the army looked like. The only thing that the play leaves out is to show these two venerable sages victorious in battle!” (Torat Chaim p.172)
R’ Yehuda Leib Alter z”l (1845-1905; the second “Gerrer Rebbe”) taught: This verse teaches us to help our fellow man with his burden. One who does this will benefit greatly and will raise himself spiritually (in Hebrew: “tekumah”). Indeed, our verse can be read: “You will rise together with him.”
This is consistent with the teaching of the Sages: “More than that which the rich man does for the beggar, the beggar does for the rich man.” This is the proper perspective on tzedakah; you may feel that you are assisting the pauper in his time of need; in actuality, though, he is doing a kindness for you by giving you the chance to perform this mitzvah. (Sfat Emet 5636)
R’ Yisroel Reisman shlita observes that one does not necessarily know when or how the person that he is helping is helping him. R’ Reisman demonstrates this with the story of a 19th century German rabbi, R’ Meir Lehman z”l, who was preparing to catch a train to an important meeting in Berlin when a stranger showed up at his door with a question that the stranger claimed was a matter of life or death. This individual was quite long-winded (even offering to repeat word-for-word R’ Lehman’s previous Shabbat Shuvah derashah) and his question, it turned out, was not a matter of life or death, but was rather innocuous. As a result of this encounter, R’ Lehman missed the train to Berlin.
R’ Lehman later learned that the train derailed with much loss of life. The stranger’s question, it turned out, was a matter of life or death, but not in the way that R’ Lehman originally assumed. (From a tape)
It is the prevalent custom among Jews of Eastern European descent that men begin to wear a tallit when they marry. Rabbenu Asher ben Yechiel (“Rosh”; died 1327) writes that the proximity of these two verses is the basis for that custom. (Peirush HaRosh Al HaTorah)
R’ Ephraim of Luntschitz z”l (17th century; author of Kli Yakar) writes that the five knots of the tzitzit allude to five “marriages”: 1) the Jewish people to the Torah; 2) the Jewish people to Hashem; 3) the Jewish people to Yerushalayim; 4) the body to the soul; and 5) man to woman. (Olelot Ephraim: Chelek Gimel, amud gimel)
This week’s letter is an excerpt from the will of R’ Ben Zion Meir Chai Uziel z”l (Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel; died 1953).
“I thank Hashem wholeheartedly in the counsel of the upright and the congregation” [Tehilim 111:1-2] that He caused me to be born onto the laps of my holy parents, and He caused me to sit before my rabbis and teachers who were good and upright. They, together, taught me the way that I should go and the deeds that I should do during my life on this earth. In their merit I was destined from the beginning of my youth to serve the public, first as a teacher of Torah . . . and from there I was taken and enthroned in the rabbinate, first in Tel Aviv-Yafo and then in that metropolis of the Jewish people, the holy community of Salonika [in Greece]. To my sorrow and pain, it has been destroyed to its foundations at the impure hands of the accursed Nazis – may their name be assigned to shame and everlasting abhorrence. I then returned to Tel Aviv-Yafo.
In these roles I placed before my eyes and as the guiding principles for my feet the following goals:  To spread Torah amongst students, to make the Torah, the mitzvot and Eretz Yisrael and its holiness be loved completely by every Jewish man and woman, to make the Jewish nation be loved [by every Jew], and to spread love of Hashem; [and 2], to bring peace between every man and woman, in body and soul, word, action and thought, with every step and deed, at home and in the street, in villages and cities, to bring peace and truth into every household and family, to the assembly of Yisrael in its entirety regardless of affiliation or party, and between Yisrael and its Father in Heaven. These two goals are really one, as they both flow from the Torah of the Living G-d and King of the World, Who is the King of Israel Who gave His nation the Torah of truth, all of whose ways are pleasant and its pathways are peace.
These two goals were the burden of my soul and the goal of my life, and based on them I planned my ways. This was my prayer every day: “Lead me in Your counsel, direct me in Your ways, and place peace and truth amongst Your nation Yisrael to love and sanctify Your Name.” Certainly I have not succeeded even a minute amount in fulfilling these goals which I made the goals of my life, but this I know, and Hashem who knows secrets knows, and [now] Yisrael too will know that this was my intention and prayer.
Sponsored by The Sabrin family on the first yahrzeit of mother Bella bat Ze’ev a”h
Copyright © 1998 by Shlomo Katz and Project Genesis, Inc.
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